Ellen Kaye Gehrke, Ph.D., MBA is the human herd leader at Rolling Horse Ranch. She currently works full time as a Professor of Community Health in the School of Health and Human Services at National University in San Diego.
Ellen founded Rolling Horse Ranch in 1999 when she and her husband, Carsten, first moved to Ramona, California. The initial focus was to provide a safe home for their growing herd after an incident at a boarding facility motivated them to find a place to care for their horses themselves. She and her husband decided to design the small ranch so it could accommodate intimate horsemanship clinics and be a beacon in the horse community for establishing healthy and safe partnerships with horses.
In the early years she worked with her long time rancher and horse mentor friend in Montana, Clay Donohoe, to bring safe and reliable ranch horses to California. She wanted her friends and customers to delight in trail riding. She worked hard to partner people with the right personality and disposition horse for their experience and riding goals. She often hosted and participated in clinics with Harry Whitney, Mark Rashid, Kathleen Lindley and Jerry Tindell. She was active in the Back Country Horseman Chapter in San Diego and received the Top Hand Award in 2001. She conducted an economic study for the Ramona Chamber of Commerce with the Ramona Trails Association to demonstrate the$24 million dollar economic impact of the horse industry on the community. This resulted in a committee that fostered the Ramona Equine Network.
Horses have never been her full time profession (thought she wishes it could be). She supported her horse passion working as a professor of leadership and management. Often her students would come out to the ranch to ride and learn about horses. She noticed that working with horses was a fast-track means for learning about oneself. When she adopted a wild horse from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) she had a powerful experience that caused her to realize how important managing one’s energy is for building a trusting relationship. This shifted her primary focus on the human to one that included the perspective of the horse. This led Ellen to design a leadership program for her organizational behavior students to come out to the ranch to learn with the help of her horses how to be a genuine leader and work effectively across cultures. Her courses were popular and well known around the university.
She was then encouraged by colleagues to offer these leadership workshops to businesses and organizations. At this time, around 2005, she thought about developing a full time business providing these programs to the public but decided to offer her programs on a part time basis. This decision was based on her desire to work on a research project that involved studying the horse-human bond from a physiological perspective. For several years she partnered with The Heartmath Institute to study the synchronicity between horses and humans as measured via the changes in heart rate variability. (you can review some of this work by reading her papers that are offered on the website)
By now, Ellen and Carsten had twelve horses, two dogs, five cats and full time jobs to attend to. She changed University teaching jobs in 2007 and continued to offer her leadership classes to her students and on-demand to the community. With a team from UCSD Medical School she developed a course for first year medical students to help them have direct experience about doctor-patient relationships.
She was contracted to work with San Diego Hospice for a Horses and Healing camp for kids that was extremely popular. Her passion with Rolling Horse Ranch shifted more to expose people to nature and the outdoor environment so she worked with several at-risk organizations to bring young people to the ranch to learn life skills with the horses. She offers these services free of charge to non-profits.
Another interest is in the integrative and complementary health community. She has Level 4 certification in Healing Touch, Level 1 for Healing touch for Animals and is a certified energy medicine professional. She works collaboratively with the Alternative Healing Network of San Diego and provides coaching services to their professional staff with the horses.
One of the most popular offerings has been her one on one coaching. Horses are highly sensitive to human communication and can be generous in their hearts to help people shift their understanding of what they really want in life.
Tragically and suddenly, due to a medical misdiagnosis, her dear husband, Carsten, died in September of 2010 and her life dramatically changed. Coping with the loss caused her to step back from her horses and leadership programs. She realized how sensitive her horses were and how tuned in to her grief that it was difficult for them to work as a team to help others. They have helped her through the healing process more than any other assistance.
She reluctantly gave Carsten’s horse to a therapeutic riding center for children with autism. His horse, Moses, is thriving under their care and it led to a research project measuring the value of therapeutic riding on children with autism. The results have shown that the more the children ride the more improvement in their autonomic nervous system which helps reduce the stresses and anxiety related to their disorders.
Ellen feels that Carsten guided her to a new path in life- meditation. She took a meditation course at a retreat center in Crestone, Colorado shortly after Carsten’s death and it has led her on a path that includes a growing commitment to Tibetan Buddhist studies. The somatic body work and the love and support of her teachers and mentors is unfolding a new kind of work within her and with her horses.
She is in the process of writing a book Cowgirl Buddha: Awakening With Horses about how horses can help humanity wake up to their full essence. Her coaching with horses in not just about improving competency and performance but adding the element of self realization and waking up to life’s true genuine self and treating all living beings and nature with loving kindness, equanimity and generosity. It just makes living in this world a more joyful place for everyone.
Her work is renewing again and she appreciates the help from many friends through the years who have spent many hours in the saddle with her and helping her with programs and workshops. Many humans have been there to support her on the recovery path. The pain from the loss of her soul mate, Carsten, as well as several other close friends and beloved animals has broken open her heart to explore new horizons and deeper, more long lasting interventions with horses.
She lives at Rolling Horse Ranch with her eight horses (Cougar, Tonopah, Shiloh, Rusty, Storm, Tessie, Sassafras Amore and Maggie Mae) a rescued Newfoundland Lab called Bodhi, three indoor cats (Cinch, Latigo and Kristina) and one outdoor cat (Cali).